cover image Opal on Dry Ground

Opal on Dry Ground

Sandra Jean Scofield. Villard Books, $20 (279pp) ISBN 978-0-679-42397-3

Once again probing the problems of women in fractured families, Scofield offers in her fifth novel (after More Than Allies ) a compromised version of the depth and compassion she showed in her earlier books. The center of this three-generation saga is Opal Duffy, a twice-married, 50-something woman struggling to juggle the demands of her new husband, her past and her two divorced, erratic daughters, with whom she shares a house and a trailer. One daughter, Clancy, gets pregnant by her lover but remains ambivalent about the prospect of yet another husband. Meanwhile, her sister, Joy, fights constantly with her ex-husband, her new boyfriend and her own daughter, a bored, rebellious teenager. Alternating character analysis with scenes from domestic and professional life, Scofield constructs her usual rich tapestry of family interaction, showing how both heartbreak and bad patterns are endlessly repeated. But the story itself is a bit static, and the long family roster occasionally warrants a scorecard, detracting from both character development and emotional impact. Moreover, the lack of well-developed male characters creates an imbalance that becomes increasingly evident as the plot grinds on. While Scofield presents several memorable characters here, this is territory she's explored more effectively in the past, most notably in 1991 in the American Book Award-winning Beyond Deserving . (June)